A huge asteroid is about to have a close, but perfectly safe, encounter with Earth.
Asteroid (7482) 1994 PC1 is 1.1 kilometers in diameter — that’s two and a half times as tall as the Empire State Building. This giant space rock will speed by the planet on January 18 at a safe distance of 1.2 million miles, and that may be close enough for some amateur astronomers to catch a glimpse of it from their backyards.
The asteroid is considered a near-Earth object that’s potentially hazardous, that’s because of its massive size and its close orbit around the Sun that brings the asteroid close to Earth.
When was Asteroid (7482) 1994 PC1 discovered?
The space rock was first seen by Robert McNaught from the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia on August 9, 1994. Using its trajectory, astronomers discovered earlier observations of the asteroid that date all the way back to the year 1974.
The asteroid orbits the Sun once every 1.57 years. That means it drags behind the Earth as it orbits around the Sun, crossing Earth’s orbit approximately once every 30 years or so.
Asteroid (7482) 1994 PC1 measures around 3,280 feet in diameter, or 1.1 kilometers, which is three and a half times as tall as the Eiffel Tower.
When is Asteroid (7482) 1994 PC1 flying by Earth?
The asteroid will swing by Earth on January 18 at 4:51 p.m. Eastern.
It will be at a distance of 1.2 million miles away from Earth, or more than five times the distance between Earth and the Moon. This will be the closest approach between this asteroid and Earth for at least the next 200 years.
The space rock will be traveling at a speedy 43,754 miles per hour.
Is Asteroid (7482) 1994 PC1 dangerous?
Due to its larger-than-life size, the asteroid has gotten the unflattering label of being “apocalyptic” by some media outlets. But that’s unfair.
Although large, the asteroid is at a safe enough distance that puts it at a trajectory far away from Earth. However, the asteroid is categorized as a near-Earth, potentially hazardous asteroid by NASA. If an asteroid comes within 4.6 million miles and is larger than about 150 meters, then it is deemed a potentially hazardous object, according to NASA.
NASA's Near Earth Object program puts together a list of asteroids that swing by our Solar System and calculates the likelihood of an impact with Earth for each of them over the next 100 years.
For this particular asteroid, if its trajectory does bring it on a collision course with Earth in the distant future, the result would be devastating. But that likely won’t happen.
How you can watch Asteroid (7482) 1994 PC1?
The asteroid’s size and proximity to Earth has one major advantage: amateur astronomers may be able to observe this asteroid flyby during its closest approach. Using a small telescope, sky gazers might be able to spot this asteroid during its peak brightness or shortly after.
In order to find the asteroid, point the telescope at a star in the asteroid’s trajectory from your point of observation. You can find that through EarthSky’s chart.
If you don’t have a telescope, or don’t want to risk missing it, the Virtual Telescope Project will stream the asteroid’s close encounter. The live feed will begin on January 18 at 08:00 p.m. UTC on their website.